A Trail of Possibilities 

The new 21-mile Gull Lake Trail will connect
Gull Lake to Paul Bunyan Trail in Nisswa 

WRITTEN by JENNY GUNSBURY

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT A TRAIL. A paved path of possibilities. Where does it go? What will I see along the way? How far can I go? It’s an invitation to explore nature, community, and potential. The Brainerd lakes area will soon have a new 21-mile paved, multi-use trail for residents, visitors, and guests to discover – the Gull Lake Trail. 

This new trail will closely follow County Road 77 in Cass County, which has been one of the most popular scenic drives in the area for decades. As it winds around the west side of Gull Lake through East Gull Lake, Fairview Township, Lake Shore, and Nisswa, travelers are treated to beautiful lake and forest vistas as they pass by historic resorts, restaurants, and golf courses, as well as other natural attractions.

 Each of the municipalities along the route have been working independently and collaboratively on planning and developing a trail system for over a decade. 

“In 2006, the Lake Shore Comprehensive Plan identified as a long-term strategy to have a recreational trail system,” explains Teri Hastings, Lake Shore city administrator. “A community survey was completed in 2007 with an overwhelming response of 75 percent of respondents in support of a trail.” 

East Gull Lake and Fairview Township were getting similar feedback from residents. In 2010, Lake Shore endorsed the Gull Lake Walking and Biking Co-op Agreement along with Nisswa, East Gull Lake, Fairview, Cass and Crow Wing counties.

Since then, over eight miles have been constructed in East Gull Lake and Lake Shore. Fairview Township has applied for funding for the connecting 7.8 miles between these segments with hopes to start construction this summer. The last phase from Lake Shore to Nisswa is also in the planning stages to finish the final five miles over the next two years. 

Once complete, the Gull Lake Trail will connect via the tunnel in Nisswa to the Paul Bunyan State Trail, a 120-mile trail from Crow Wing State Park south of Brainerd to Lake Bemidji State Park in Bemidji, one of the longest paved “Rails to Trails” projects in the nation. Riders, runners, and walkers will also then have access to the Heartland State Trail in Walker and the Blue Ox Trail in Bemidji.

Joggers make their way along the Gull Lake Trail near Dade Lake. (Photo courtesy of Rob Mason)

“The trail will provide two interconnected, but separate opportunities for people in the area,” describes Matthew Hill, director of Nisswa Parks and Recreation. “First, it will stand on its own as a recreational trail. Second, it will serve as a community connection trail, providing safe access for people to get to our local restaurants and shops via bike, walking, and in other ways as a multi-use trail. It is a win-win for the larger Nisswa community.” 

In this tourism area of four-season activities, even winter fat-tire and mountain bikers will be able to enjoy more miles of trails. 

The planning and development of the Gull Lake Trail is also a multi-community effort of residents and trail enthusiasts. East Gull Lake’s Park and Trail Committee, Nisswa’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission and Steering Committee, Lake Shore’s Trail 77 Team, and the Fairview Trail Advisory Committee have been busy gathering input from the public, promoting the trail at community open houses and area events. 

“The first order of business for the Fairview group was creating a ‘Get Hooked on the Gull Lake Trail’ campaign complete with an eye-catching logo,” explains Marla Yoho, clerk-treasurer for Fairview Township. “It has now been adopted by the Lake Shore and Nisswa trail expansion projects.”

Besides raising awareness and garnering public support for the trail project, the communities worked tirelessly to build the trail without directly taxing property owners. The majority of the project has been and will be funded by grants. The Minnesota Legacy Amendment (approved by voters in 2008), Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Initiative Foundation, Cass County Fund 73, and various federal grants are all being used to offset construction costs. 

Writing grants is an extensive endeavor but, “all the participating partners have helped each other in public meetings and letters of support during the funding process,” says Rob Mason, city administrator for East Gull Lake. “It was always recognized as a tremendous future amenity that would add to the already popular area. Tourists quite often become residents in the future when they seek a retirement location. The future economic benefits are more than just great trails and healthy living.”

Supporters have also been putting their money where their feet will be by investing directly in the trail. Fairview and Lake Shore each set up a fund at the Brainerd Lakes Community Foundation. “Private donations currently exceed $31,000 in our township alone,” says Yoho. “People want this trail to be completed and understand what a great opportunity it is for the area.” 

The Gull Lake Trail awaits. Start exploring in East Gull Lake and Lake Shore this spring. What will you discover? 

Gull Lake Trail – Where does it go?

EAST GULL LAKE

  • Gull Dam Recreational Area
  • Cragun’s Resort, The Legacy Golf Courses
  • Madden’s Resort, Pine Beach East &
    West Golf Courses, Classic Grill
  • Kavanaugh’s Resort

FAIRVIEW TOWNSHIP

  • Pillsbury State Forest – access to trails, campsites, riding stables
  • Jake’s on Gull Lake restaurant and bar
  • Quarterdeck Resort & Jake’s Beach Grille
  • Mount Ski Gull & Brainerd Zip Line
  • Lakeshore Conservation Club
  • Birch Bay RV Resort

LAKE SHORE

  • Sherwood Forest restaurant
  • The Iron Waffle restaurant
  • Fritz Loven Park
  • Gull Lake Narrows – public boat landing
  • Cowboy’s Bar
  • Bar Harbor Supper Club
  • Zorbaz

NISSWA 

  • Grand View Lodge & The Pines Golf Course
  • Nisswa Lake Park & Recreational Area
  • Shopping and dining in Nisswa
  • Paul Bunyan State Trail 
  • Nisswa City Park
  • Life Cycle Bike Shop – new and rentals
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